Effective as of Nov. 1, Stephanie Simpson was appointed the associate vice-principal in human rights, equity, and inclusion.
Simpson worked in the Human Rights Office at Queen’s since 1996. In 2018, she was named executive director (human rights and equity offices) and university advisor on equity and human rights.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
How do you feel about your appointment?
I think that, like many others in the community, I’m feeling like it’s a welcome change and in fact it’s overdue. This comes out of a recommendation that folks made 18 months ago through the Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (PICRDI) process, and it’s nice to see all of this finally come to fruition. I [and] many people didn’t see this coming. When the recommendation was made that I’d be the person appointed to the role, it was a welcoming surprise. I think this is a great move for the community and I’m glad that people came to the point where it was time to put this in place.
What is your background in human rights and equity?
Like a lot of people, I did not train to be a human rights and equity specialist. I came to this fairly organically. Throughout my time at Queens as an undergraduate, I was actively seeking to be involved within the human rights and equity community. I was a member of African & Caribbean Students’ Association (ACSA), the Black History Collective, as well as the Queen’s South Africa Solidarity group, so I was pretty engaged in student life around some activist themes. I’d come to Queen’s to pursue history and English as a concurrent education degree. After graduating, this came up as a part-time contract position with the human rights office at the University. I’d been very fortunate to be mentored in the human rights area over 22 years by the previous director.
How did you start in human rights at Queen’s?
I came in completely unexpected. I had a background in community engagement when it came to human rights and social justice issues, but it wasn’t my intended profession—really just before I was to do my teaching year in con-ed a part-time position came up. I was actually working in this office while I was finishing my con-ed degree, and then I was just offered more and more opportunities. I ended up having to make a decision between pursuing opportunities within the teaching profession or stay with human rights.
What did you accomplish in the Human Rights office during your tenure?
I’d say the development of relationships with strong stakeholders amongst campus, such that we were able to work together to create a more welcoming community. I think we’ve managed as a team to demonstrate we’re here to help, we’re here to spread awareness, we are here to advise and encourage practices and activities that are in the best interest of all communities.
How will elevating your role to associate vice-principal change what you are able to accomplish?
The PICRDI report sets out what it is that they envision that an AVP would be able to do and really, they talk about this person being able to influence change and to, on a more concrete level, implement many of the recommendations they have been made in various reports. Beyond that, I see the role of the AVP being one of a facilitator, someone who is able to more strongly able to empower groups within the community. Many have fought long and hard to make this an equitable campus, and fought long and hard to achieve this kind of goal. A lot of the work that we have been doing with equity and human rights will continue, but I believe that in the future I will be around more places on campus that encourage diversity and have more opportunities to meet with departments and work with senior administration.
What is your vision for Queen’s?
I would love to see Queen’s become a leader in equity, human rights, and inclusion. I believe we need to set our hopes high, and I don’t want Queen’s merely doing the minimum it can to ensure human rights and equity obligations are being met. I believe Queen’s can become a leader in this field and, when I look at what we might achieve five years or more down the road, realistically 10 or 20 years down the road, I’d like Queen’s to be known for its diversity—for its intentional engagement of that diversity in areas like research, campus life, and teaching, and learning.
How do you plan to accomplish this?
I’ll continue to work closely with the University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity (UCARE) [and similar groups], and I’ll work closely with the deputy provost of academic operations and inclusion, Dr. Teri Shearer, to continue to strategize and develop plans in terms of moving forward. Many plans are already in motion. There’s a great deal that have come out of the provost office, in terms of establishing groups like UCARE as well as auctioning recommendations in the TRC report.
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